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Key Number: HS 29377
Site Name: Big Valley Canadian Northern Round House
Other Names:
Site Type: 0805 - Transportation - Rail Facility: Round House


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
35 20 4

Town: Big Valley
Near Town:


Type Number Date View


Plan Shape:
Foundation: Basement/Foundation Wall Material: Concrete
Superstructure: Poured Concrete
Superstructure Cover:
Roof Structure:
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes:
Exterior: When the Roundhouse was abandoned in 1943, the roof and post-and-beam structure were removed and the building was stripped of all fittings, leaving a concrete shell. All but the east wall remain standing.
Interior: N/A
Environment: N/A
Condition: Still standing but greatly deteriorated.
Alterations: N/A


Construction: Construction Date:
Approximate construction year.
Commenced operation.
Usage: Usage Date:
Owner: Owner Date:

Architect: N/A
Builder: N/A
Craftsman: N/A
History: Employed large number of people in Big Valley, peaked at approximately 235 employees. Supported other industries, etc. developed gravel pit 4 miles south of town. Also, a coaling station, closed down in 1952.
When Canadian Northern became bankrupt and C.N.R. took over (1916), the roundhouse at Mirror was favoured, causing relocation of railway personnel and homes to Mirror. By 1930 the population of Big Valley had fallen from 1,025 to 440.
* * *
RESOURCE C. N. R. Station
ADDRESS Big Valley
BUILT 1912
DESIGNATION STATUS Local Historic Resource


In the spring of 1909, Premier Alexander Rutherford committed his government to a program of vast bond guarantees to assist railways to develop branch lines throughout Alberta. Hitherto, assistance to the major transcontinental railway companies had come from the federal government in order that they might reach the Pacific coast. Prime Minister Laurier however had made it known that within the regions of the country, governmental assistance would have to be provincial. Taking the challenge, Rutherford ran his re-election campaign that spring on the theme of 'Rutherford, Reliability and Railways'. With his overwhelming victory at the polls, Alberta was about to begin a period of unprecedented railway development.

Among the principal players was the Canadian Northern Railway (CNor) which had arrived in Edmonton in December 1905 directly from the east. A firm of William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, the CNor was actually the parent company of a number of subsidiary railways in which Mackenzie and Mann had, and would come to have an interest. Taking heart from Rutherford's announced commitment to railway development, they incorporated several new lines, among them the Alberta Midland which was chartered by the provincial government in May 1909. This line was intended to extend from Vegreville south to Calgary, paralleling and rivaling the old Calgary & Edmonton Railway to the west, which was a subsidiary of the CPR. So high was the optimism of the time that the Grand Trunk Pacific also got into the act and began to construct a third north-south line in between the two.

The objective of the Alberta Midland was to provide some passenger service and open up new lands for farming, but also to tap the rich deposits of coal, which was becoming an increasingly important commodity for domestic use by Alberta's booming population. It was also becoming very important for use by the rapidly expanding railway networks. Coal from the deposits around Drumheller could be taken north to Vegreville and shipped all the way east to Saskatoon and beyond.

Construction of the Vegreville-Calgary Branch of the Alberta Midland continued throughout 1909. By the end of 1910, it was completed all the way from Vegreville to Stettler. At various points along the way, sidings were erected, several of which were subdivided by the CNor into townsites. Those considered to have the greatest potential for development were designated as 'divisional points', meaning that they would be provided with switching yards and facilities for the servicing and repair of locomotives and rolling stock. A major consideration was the availability of a non-corrosive supply of water. This was apparently a key factor in determining that a divisional point would be located near the hamlet of Big Valley on Mott Creek, some 25km south of Stettler, where a store and post office had existed since 1907.

In the spring of 1910, a new townsite was surveyed off the rail line, and lots put on sale. So great was the demand that the CNor had to add an extra subdivision the following year. By the end of 1911, track was laid as far south as Drumheller, and a freighting service begun. The following spring, mixed train services were underway all the way from Drumheller to Vegreville. In July 1912, work was begun at Big Valley on a water tower, a turntable, a roundhouse and other buildings necessary for a major divisional center, including a new station.

For several years, railway activity at Big Valley was intense, as the center was home to 14 engine and train crews and a large contingent of related maintenance staff. When the CNor was taken over by the federal government in 1918, the divisional operation was extensively upgraded, and the population of Big Valley doubled in the space of two years. In November 1920, it was incorporated as a Town with over 1,000 people. Signs of decline were in the air however, for the Grand Trunk had also been taken over by the federal government which would endeavor to operate both lines as a single system called Canadian National Railways. This meant a consolidation of assets and services, and, in 1922, it was decided to make the former Grand Trunk line between Camrose and Calgary the main north-south artery of CN. Staff reductions were thus made at Big Valley, while the crew and facilities at Mirror were extensively upgraded.

In June 1923, mixed train service between Big Valley and Vegreville was terminated. By 1930, the population of Big Valley had dropped to 440. The station and maintenance facilities continued to survive however serving mainly to deliver district coal and mixed farming products to market. With the decline in the coal industry following World War II, rail traffic occurred with even less frequency, and, in the early 1890's, it was halted altogether.


The historical significance of the CN station at Big Valley lies in its direct association with the intense railway boom preceding and immediately following World War I. On the Alberta Midland line of the Canadian Northern, it housed the offices of a major divisional point, and conducted traffic between Drumheller and Vegreville, and also oversaw operations of the Alberta Midland line west to Rocky Mountain House. The station is also important as a surviving 1912 western prairie railway station, and as at the center of all commercial and passenger rail traffic into and out of Big Valley and its hinterland from 1912 until the 1980's. Today, along with other structural evidence of the early railway boom nearby, it constitutes a major element of Alberta Prairie Steam Tours.


Roundhouse Site
LOCATION: Big Valley

The CNR Roundhouse site in Big Valley is, in fact, a collection of concrete ruins, pits and foundations remaining from the switching yards and facilities for servicing and repairing locomotives. The site was developed from 1912 through 1918 by the Canadian Northern Railway Company as part of the complex associated with the designation of Big Valley as the "divisional point" on the Vegreville to Calgary branch line. Each of the components was designed by architect Ralph Benjamin Pratt, not specifically for this site, but as standardized plans for the CNR operations in the west.

The stylistic interest of this site lies in the ruined state of the structures and the strength of the interpretation potential.

The design of the structures which now lie in ruins, were primarily built according to standardized plans produced for the Canadian Northern Railway Company's western operations by Ralph Benjamin Pratt. The remaining components of the rail yard include:

an Ash Pit (Plan #120-63 - R.B. Pratt);
a Mechanical Coaling Plant (by Roberts & Schaefer Co.);
Sand Houses (designed & built on site);
a Stores Building (Plan #160-52 - R.B. Pratt);
a Water Tank (designed & built on site);
Pump Houses (Plan #150-41 - R.B. Pratt) and Reservoir;
A Turntable (Dominion Bridge Co.); and
a Roundhouse (Plan #120-36 - R.B. Pratt), Annexes (Plan #120-69 - R.B. Pratt) and 5-Stall Extension (Plan #120-36 - R.B. Pratt)

Nothing remains of this site but concrete walls of the roundhouse and concrete foundations of other structures. However, some design merit lies in the aesthetic contribution of these industrial ruins.

The structures that remain on this site consist of board formed cast-in-place concrete walls and foundations of railway yard buildings. Since this material and method of construction is quite common, the site scores a Poor rating for this section.
The structural remains of each component of the CNR railway yard on this original site are as follows:

The concrete retaining walls of the Ash Pit and the depressed track and the concrete floor slab of the pit are intact.

The Mechanical Coaling Plant remains contain a concrete hopper and conveyor pit and the concrete foundation and floor slab for the engine house. A steel ladder, secured to one wall of the pit gives access to the grade below. Concrete curbing with projecting anchor bolts indicate the former position of the hoisting engine.

The remains of the last Sand House are under mounds of sand directly east of the ash pit. As anchor bolt projecting through the sand is all that is visible of the footing marking the southwest corner of the structure.

The Stores Building remains consist of a concrete basement oil room, an ante room used to store oil cans and the concrete stairs to the main level.

The Water Tank remains consist of a supply pipe projecting just above the grade and the footings of the foundation. The remnants of the pump house, reservoir and dam are located well beyond the eastern boundary of the site, but are visible from a distance.

The remnants of the Pump House, Reservoir and Dam are located well beyond the eastern boundary of the site, but are visible from a distance.

The Turntable remains include the concrete circular wall and the circular pit. A catch basin grating, east of the foundation, formerly used to drain the pit is still apparent, as is the cinder paving in the pit.

When the Roundhouse was abandoned in 1943, the roof and post-and-beam structure were removed and the building was stripped of all fittings, leaving a concrete shell. All but the east wall remain standing. Two locomotive pits were excavated in 1992 by the Canadian Northern Society. The anchor bolts that secured the timber copings to the top of each pit stall still project from the concrete walls. Remnants of a wood plank floor in the machine shop are still apparent and the concrete floor slab in the boiler room and lavatory are in very good condition.

The Canadian Northern Society, prior to opening the site to the public, hired an engineering firm to assess the structural condition of the ruins and the site was deemed to be safe.

The resources associated with this site are very important landmarks for the region, especially because they are on their original site and are part of a complex of adjacent structures that include a CNR Standard Second Class Station, railway bunkhouse, tool shed, grain elevators and operating railway tracks (Alberta Prairie Excursions). The station is the southern terminal for Alberta Prairie Excursions which operates steam and diesel-powered locomotive passenger trips from Stettler, carrying approximately 25,000 visitors per year. The station is within easy walking distance of these ruins, which are presently interpreted by a self-guided walking tour and interpretive plaques.
As reported in previous sections, Big Valley was established as a divisional point in 1912 and the construction of these railway servicing facilities followed shortly thereafter. The structures associated with this site are integral components of the assembly of railway structures directly north on the rail line and are complimentary features to the historic downtown streetscape and the town itself that was laid out by the Canadian Northern Railway.


Status: Status Date:
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Provincial Historic Resource
Provincial Historic Resource
Record Information: Record Information Date:
K. Williams 1989/09/12


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-1043
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